Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Meaning of Cain and Abel by Chris White

Cain had a brother as long as he was Abel
“ By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.      --Heb. 11:4

“ Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion.   --Jude 11

To think of the Cain and Abel story, one can hardly ignore how fast jealousy and anger turned to fratricide and then lying and cover-up in the earliest generation of the human family.  This tragedy continues to reverberate through human society with a worldwide homicide rate of 7 people out every 100,000 persons being intentionally murdered.  But tragic as all of that is, the story of Cain and Abel is not primarily about the origins murder in the human family but rather the emergence of two kinds of people within the human race that are truly separated by their religion.

The background of the story (found in Genesis 4) centers on the worship of God as manifested in making sacrifices to Him.  It was not a question of if Cain and Abel were going to do this but how they were going to do this.  And you must know that even if you consider yourself a skeptic or even an agnostic, this speaks of your situation as well.  Cain is the tiller of the soil and Abel is the keeper of sheep.  Both know, presumably from their parents (Adam and Eve), that offerings are to be made to God and that offering is to be.

Cain makes as his offering the fruit of his labors as a farmer.  A beautiful basket of his best produce, maybe even some choice flowers, is arranged in a basket and placed on the altar before God.  It is a large basket, the best of the best, and yet it is rejected by the Lord.  Meanwhile, his brother Abel presents the Lord with a jumbled assortment of raw meat from a lamb he has slaughtered for this sacrifice.  And the Lord has regard for Abel’s offering.

At first blush the choice of Abel’s offering over Cain’s looks a bit arbitrary and unfair (which when parents act this way with their children predictably does stir up strife and resentments).  After all, both men were offering the Lord the fruits of their respective occupations.  But the Lord called Cain out on his sacrifice and told him to do right like his brother had done.  What we can derive from this is God had already set a standard of blood sacrifice and Cain had determined he was going to do his own thing and thus be a law unto himself.  In the words of Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way!”
And so before us in this story is in microcosm the only two religions that exist among men.  To be sure men hold to all sorts of religious ideas or none at all, but they are merely differing manifestations of the ‘way of Cain’ which is to approach God on terms other than what He has prescribed.  The other religion, the way of Abel, is to approach God on his terms.  He accepted only blood sacrifices because they looked towards and pointed to His son Jesus who would become “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).  As Peter preached to those who had rejected Jesus and had Him crucified  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” 
Christ a Savior of all nations

This brings me to a final question: to which of these religions do you belong?  The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On God's Grace, Anger Fantasies, and a Bad Muffler by Chris White

Actual Car not pictured

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life"
                                                                                    --Proverbs 4:23

The constraints of my situation prohibit me from elaborating, but I do have an enemy.   It's not the devil (although he certainly does appear on my list as The Enemy!) nor is it someone who is or ever has been a member of the church or on the church staff.  Thus, no need to guess or try to figure out who this person is as it really is not important.  My point in bringing this up is I was out walking (as is my custom) the other night and thinking what Pastor Rick has often referred to as "anger fantasies" about this person.  It started out as prayer but, to be honest, it quickly degenerated into thinking incoherent thoughts like "God, if you are going to forgive this person, I'm not sure I even want to be in heaven."  In that moment I heard back from God and thankfully it wasn't "okay Chris, I'll bear that in mind and judge you accordingly!"  So how did God speak to me and what did he say?  In that moment a car drove by me on this quiet street.  It's muffler was noisy enough that it caused me to look up as it went by.  On the back of the car in 10 inch letters were the words " Jesus said love your enemies!".   I wish I could say a warm rush of God's love enveloped me in that moment and that I was immediately quickened by the Spirit to actually love my enemy, but that is not what happened.  But my heart did stop its tirade and was, as the song goes, "sweetly broken" by the truth sent to me from God.  For I knew the message on the back of the car was for me and was shorthand for larger passage of scripture:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. " (Matt. 5:43-48)

It's a hard truth, especially if you have been grievously injured by another person, yet we are not called to have warm feelings for our enemies, but to return to them the same grace God has given to us.  Its easy to forget that in the face of our rebellion and enmity towards God, God showed us His favor and grace.  He asks us to extend the same and in the doing of that we reflect in a small way His likeness and so prove to be His sons.